UNC suspends student’s Honor Court hearing

Mar. 26, 2013 @ 07:21 PM

UNC has suspended an Honor Court hearing for Landen Gambill in the wake of her federal complaint alleging that the university retaliated against her for speaking out about sexual assaults on campus.

The move comes a day after UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp received a letter from Gambill’s attorney, Clay Turner, notifying Thorp of the complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education.

Turner said he spoke with Gambill on Tuesday about the decision to suspend the hearing.

“She’s pleased at this step in the right direction and is cautiously optimistic this matter will be resolved soon,” Turner said.

He would not comment further on Thorp’s decision to ask the Honor Court to suspend the hearing.

But even if the university had not made the request, Turner wrote Monday that Gambill would not attend an Honor Court hearing scheduled for sometime next month to face charges that she created an intimidating environment for an ex-boyfriend who Gambill alleges sexually assaulted her.

“The retaliatory charges against my client are inappropriate, unconstitutional and utterly without merit,” Turner wrote.

John Gresham, an attorney for the ex-boyfriend, stressed Tuesday that the university played no part in his client’s decision to file charges against Gambill in Honor Court.

“The university had nothing to do with the charges,” Gresham said.

He noted that Gambill at one time said that she looked forward to hearing, but seems to have a changed her mind.

“Now she’s saying she wants no hearing at all,” Gresham said. “There appears to be a change of heart.”

Gambill, who faces possible expulsion for the Honor Code violations, has not named the ex-boyfriend in public comments about sexual assaults at UNC. He was cleared by a university hearing panel of sexual assault charges, but found guilty of harassing Gambill.

In a letter to the campus, Thorp said the university has grappled for several weeks with how to best respond to the claim of retaliation while maintaining the integrity of the Honor Court and protecting the privacy of the people involved.

“Recognizing the potential conflicts that may exist by allowing both processes to continue, we have asked the Student Attorney General to suspend the Honor Court proceeding pending an external review of these allegations of retaliation,” Thorp said. “The University takes all allegations of retaliation seriously, whether against an individual or an institution, and this allegation is no exception.”
Gambill is also a part of another complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights, along with two other current students, one former student and the former assistant dean of students Melinda Manning.

They allege that the university violated the rights of sexual assault victims and created a hostile environment for students reporting sexual assault.

The Office of Civil Right is investigating their claims, and the Department of Education’s Clery Act Division is conducting a program review to evaluate how the campus has complied with federal law.

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses.

Manning has charged that university officials pressured her into lowering the number of reported offenses at UNC.

She has said there were three fewer cases in the Annual Campus Security Report than she originally submitted.

UNC officials vigorously denied the charge during a Board of Trustees meeting in January. Officials contend that the report, in fact, contained more incidents of sexual violence than Manning submitted to include in the report.

Thorp has hired Gina Smith, a nationally recognized expert on sexual assault issues, to meet with students and engage them in discussions.

Also, Joanne Hershfield, chairwoman of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, has made suggestions about how the university may improve the way it addresses sexual assaults on campus.

Thorp said he will review Hershfield’s suggestions and work with her and other faculty members to “continue the dialogue about how we can do better.”